Achieving Long Term Sobriety-How to Beat Alcoholism and Drug Addiction

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    Long term sobriety is the golden standard of success in beating alcoholism. There are plenty of people who drift in and out of recovery, only getting a small taste of a better life before slipping back into the grip of addiction.For the newcomer, the big question in early recovery becomes: “How can I make this last?” or “How can I turn recovery into a lifestyle?” These questions all point toward the same goal of achieving long term, meaningful sobriety.

    Roller Coaster of Recovery
    Photo by J. Reed

    When I first got sober, I wanted to know what common factors there were among those who had achieved long term sobriety. I learned from others and from my own experience that the following factors are critical in the beginning:

    1) Level of Surrender - Those who have truly “hit bottom” have a really good chance of achieving long term sobriety. Recognize though that it is not about how far you’ve fallen, but more about to what degree you have internalized a need for change. Regardless of your life circumstances, those who have admitted complete defeat against drugs and alcohol stand a much better chance of making it in the long run.

    2) Strength of Commitment – Some people merely dabble in recovery, while others immerse themselves almost completely in a recovery program. Those who have long term sobriety in AA almost always talk of how heavily they were involved in their early years of recovery. This strength of commitment is simply the outward reflection of what is driving you on the inside towards a life of sobriety.

    3) Willingness for Following Direction – Any recovery program is essentially a set of directions to help you live a sober life. Those who have achieved long term sobriety or overcome an addiction tend to emphasize that they were very willing to follow whatever direction was given to them when they first started their recovery. You will often hear people share in AA meetings how they were willing to do whatever was asked of them in order to stay sober. This speaks to a profound level of desperation being necessary to achieve recovery.

    Even though these elements are critical to early recovery, they are not necessarily under our direct control. For example, I didn’t get to choose my level of surrender. It just happened. I was finally devastated and miserable enough with my drinking and drug use that I was willing to ask for help and try to change. This level of surrender directly affected the strength of my commitment and my willingness to follow directions.

    If these factors are largely beyond our control, what can we do in order to ensure our long term success? Here are some things that have enabled myself and others to achieve significant lengths of recovery:

    1) The Day at a Time Philosophy – Can anyone stay sober for a year at a time? Since we have a tendency to measure our lives out in days, it makes sense to develop a day-at-a-time philosophy for maintaining sobriety. Recovering alcoholics know that they never have to drink again….just for today. It can also be helpful to know that if we can just make it through today without drinking, then tomorrow will start us off fresh and likely take care of itself. But the real power of this philosophy is in the mindfulness of staying present in each moment. For an excellent exploration of the topic, I highly recommend reading Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now.”

    Focusing on Recovery
    Photo by Photo Monkey

    2) Long Term Treatment – When I finally got clean and sober for good, it was through the help of a long term treatment center. I lived in one for a period of 20 months in my early recovery, and I’m confident that this was a critical component to my continued success in recovery. Long term treatment gave me the foundation that I needed in order to establish a strong recovery for myself. It was there that I learned how to live, and developed the lasting and healthy habits that carry me through recovery today.

    3) Spiritual Experience – This is the absolute clincher. The spiritual experience is the whole key, the thing that all other suggestions point towards. This is because it is vital for maintaining long term sobriety. Behavioral approaches and cognitive therapies work great for treating “problem drinkers” or “drug abusers,” but for real alcoholics and drug addicts, a complete psychic change in personality is necessary to overcome their problem. This is not the same as religious conversion. The vital spiritual experience is characterized, among other things, by overcoming self-centeredness, and is maintained by working with others in recovery.

    Profile of a Success Story: What Characteristics Lead to Long Term Sobriety

    1) Balance – When I first got clean and sober, the treatment center I attended had a lecture about “living a balanced lifestyle.” I thought it was a waste of time, and didn’t see how it applied to my early recovery. In fact, I believe I was right–it didn’t apply. But it does now. As I continued to stay clean and started living a more “normal” life, the question of balance continues to be brought to my attention. Virtually any addict or alcoholic is in danger of unbalancing their life. For example, consider someone who loses themselves in their work and becomes a workaholic, only to later suffer the consequences of burnout and fatigue. Although it might not seem like it in early recovery, balance becomes a critical concept as you continue to stay sober.

    Winding road of recovery
    Photo by NYC Treeman

    2) Willingness – Those who make it in the long term maintain their willingness. They stay open to the criticism of others, to trying new ideas, to conquering their fears. Continued willingness goes hand in hand with lifelong learning, and is critical for those who continue to push themselves to reach new goals.

    3) Seeking - You are either growing spiritually or you are regressing. Standing still is an illusion when it comes to spiritual progress–if you think you’re stagnant, then you need to get moving. Those who enjoy long term sobriety are constantly pushing themselves to grow spiritually.

    4) Network – No man is an island….you need the help of others in order to succeed in recovery. Making a strong network of people who can help you in your addiction treatment journey can be the difference between recovery and relapse. 12 step meetings, therapy, or counseling can all be tools to help form this support network.

    There are many different options if you are seeking help for alcoholism or drug addiction.  An inpatient alcohol abuse treatment program can help or your loved one break the vicious cycle of alcoholism. With the right alcohol abuse treatment, long-term recovery is possible.


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